Playwriting: A Practical Guide for Students of All Ages

By Noël Greig | Go to book overview

2

Theme

The subject matter of a play can be described in terms of its action: 'two young people in Verona defy their families and bring about their own deaths' (Romeo and Juliet). The theme or themes are described in more abstract terms and deal with large universal concerns regarding our humanity: love, revenge, duty, tribal loyalties, etc. (Romeo and Juliet). They can also be contained in a large moral or social question, placed firmly at the heart of the narrative: What occurs when we place narrow family duty above the general health of the community? (Romeo and Juliet).

The themes of a play are not necessarily spelled out in an explicit way, but are rather woven into the texture. Hamlet is a complex play not because its subject matter is complicated; indeed, that can be expressed quite simply as, for example, 'by failing to take revenge on his father's murder, a young prince brings death and destruction to the whole court.' The complexity of the play lies in the fact that its themes are so many and so dense: the question of free will, the nature of madness, the limits of the individual, etc. We can say what Hamlet is 'about' in terms of its story, but to finally pin down what it is 'about' in terms of its themes is not so easy.

This principle applies to all texts for performance. I once wrote a large-scale community play for a company in the UK, which dealt with the history of a well-known and derelict stately home (in which the first performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream had been given). Local myth and legend, Queen Elizabeth I and a twentieth-century family featured in a travelling performance around the grounds. As we developed the story, it became clear that underneath the subject matter of historical and contemporary events, the strong thematic question of 'who owns history?' was developing. On another occasion, when I was working with primary school children on their own epic tale about tribal conflict, the big

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Playwriting: A Practical Guide for Students of All Ages
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Noël Greig iii
  • Title Page v
  • Contents ix
  • Preface xii
  • Acknowledgements xv
  • 1 - Getting Going and Warming Up 1
  • 2 - Theme 43
  • 3 - Issue 47
  • 4 - Building a Character 60
  • 5 - Finding the Story 86
  • 6 - Location 119
  • 7 - The Individual Voice 131
  • 8 - Second Draft 157
  • 9 - Performance Projects 193
  • Appendix A: 198
  • Appendix B: 200
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